“Happiness is not dependent on circumstances.”
-Dr. Kristin Neff
The ah-ha that hit me upside the head
I caught a glimpse of this ad out of the corner of my eye and my stomach dropped. It was a little ironic since this magazine has been in plain sight for quite some time, but I had never taken a second look. I missed something that was in my world every day because I wasn’t paying attention.
Maybe because I’m usually pressed for time, maybe because I’m always looking to the next thing, or maybe because it’s been there so long it faded into the background. On this day, day one of the “shelter in place” order, it caught my attention and in that moment, I realized something quite powerful.
Uncertainty is a part of life
The truth is, uncertainty has always been a part of my life (and it has always been a part of yours), but now, that uncertainty has taken on a very different meaning and it’s wreaking havoc on our mental health. It wasn’t a gradual shift, it was immediate.
I was no longer worried about if I would need an umbrella to watch my son play his sport, I was worried that I wouldn’t get to watch him play at all. My mind was flooded with questions and I spent a couple of days in a bit of a panic, worrying about all the things, reading all the articles, and trying to process all the information.
Stop the spiral of “what ifs”
Guess what? In all of my research and efforts to control what was happening, I didn’t feel any better, I actually felt worse. I realized that I was stuck in the endless negative spiral of “what ifs” which is not an effective or healthy approach to navigate life in uncertain times. I realized that I had to stop the chaos in my mind and begin to take charge of my thoughts and make intentional efforts to prioritize my mental health.
What about you? Where are you in all of this? What are you doing to take care of you… and your mental health?
We have a chance to build resilience through this
Before I go any further, I want you to know that it’s ok to not be ok, but I also want you to know that you don’t have to stay there. There is hope for a better tomorrow even in the midst of not so great circumstances. In uncertain times, we feel uncomfortable and long for life to feel “normal” again, but maybe we can look at this as an opportunity to build resilience that can help us face uncertainty in the future.
When life feels out of control on the outside, it can be an invitation to strengthen our core. Each time we persevere through a challenging time, we learn (or maybe even unlearn) something that will benefit us in some way, even if we can’t see it in the moment.
Commit to taking action
So how do you begin to move forward? The best place to start is to recognize that your mental health is a priority followed by the acceptance of the current situation.
Although this may feel different, uncertainty has always been a part of our daily lives, so don’t believe the thought that this is just too much and too overwhelming. You can do this! Believe it and then commit to taking action every day even if you don’t “feel” like it
Reasons to prioritize your mental health:
- With isolation, low mood and depressive symptoms can intensify
- In uncertainty, anxiety, worry and panic begin to feel overwhelming
- Spiraling thoughts and continuous “what ifs” perpetuate already anxious feelings
- Emotional flooding (being overwhelmed by emotion) shuts off the logical thinking part of our brain which leads to poor decisions and hurt feelings
- Irritability and indecisiveness become more prevalent when mental wellness is ignored
- Relationship distress increases in stressful, uncertain times
- Fear prevents growth
- Unhealthy coping can lead to unhealthy habits
- Stress makes us tired physically, mentally, and emotionally/decreases immunity
- You can’t pour from an empty cup
Reflections as you consider taking action:
- Recognize that your previous pace and patterns weren’t necessarily healthy
- Accept what is different and don’t judge yourself for how you feel
- Let go of limitations and have confidence that you are stronger than you think
- Consider forming new habits-when the outside world is unstable, focus on stabilizing the “core” (invest in personal well-being)
- Emotions aren’t bad, they are simply cues that we need to take notice; accept them without judgment; if we don’t address them, we recycle them
- Reflect on what you may need to “unlearn” during this time; remember a tight grip keeps us stuck; if you loosen your grip you can hold more
- Remember, sometimes we can’t just “embrace” change, we have to “force” it
Practical ways to take action:
- Get moving, take a walk, do yoga, go for a run, play with your kids/a pet
- Stay connected (don’t self-isolate in your home); reach out to friends and family via FaceTime; plan virtual coffee dates/game nights
- Take charge of toxic thought patterns and challenge (out loud if you have to)
- Take charge of what you can control and let go of what you can’t
- Release the need to know
- Accept your feelings and emotions/write them down/share them with someone
- Try “release writing” (write freely; don’t pay attention to any rules of writing, let go of expectations, and just get it out; rip it up/shred it after you’re done)
- Get outside – vitamin D improves mood and increases immunity
- Find something meaningful to explore; learn something new
- Practice gratitude (gratitude jar/wall); have your whole family participate
- Create a “Quarantine Bucket List”
- Remember times that you have overcome challenges; keep a “wins” journal
- Practice self-care (find something that refreshes your soul/grounds you)
- Rest (Really, it’s ok! When all we’ve known is busyness, it feels foreign, but it’s good for you)
- Recognize your tendencies when you’re stressed and use coping to challenge those that are unhealthy
- ALLOW YOURSELF TO HAVE FUN!